Mexico: Colony to Empire, 1519-1867

An extensive exhibit at DeGolyer Library celebrates the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence.

Seal of Mexico

For the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico’s independence from Spain, SMU's DeGolyer Library presents Mexico: Colony to Empire, 1519-1867

Flag of Mexico
Flag of Mexico
Fernando Cortés
Hernán Cortés
 Santa Anna
Santa Anna
 Sam Houston
Sam Houston

The exhibit runs through May 20 and includes portraits, manuscript collections of viceroyalty documents, papers signed by Spanish kings, land grants, applications for nobility demonstrating purity of blood, documents related to the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Emperors Iturbide and Maximilian, Imperial Orders, Mexican presidents, Santa Anna, materials from the Mexican War and Texas Revolution, early maps, currency and rare books.  

The exhibition begins with the Spanish conquest of Mexico.   In 1519, the Spanish invaded Mexico, called "Nueva España," populated by Aztecs and other indigenous people.  Led by Hernán Cortés, the conquistadores settled the land but also brought fatal diseases, killed and enslaved the Indians.  The Catholic Church opposed subjugation of the Indians by the Spanish, played a major role in converting natives, education and colonization of the New World. 

The two major colonial industries were mining and the hacienda.  Mexican silver mining became a primary source of income for the Spanish treasury.  The hacienda or estate originated in large land grants and consisted of ranches, businesses and even mines.

Mexicans rebelled against Spanish rule during the Mexican War of Independence, 1810-1821.  In 1821, the Plan of Iguala declaring independence brought together revolutionary factions and the next year Agustín de Iturbide was declared emperor.  His tenure lasted less than a year, and there followed a succession of presidents until Maximilian of Austria became emperor in 1864.  Unpopular among republican liberals, he was executed in 1867, bringing to an end the second empire. 

Nineteenth century Mexico was politically, socially and economically unstable.  Besides war with Spain, Mexico engaged in war with the then Mexican state of Texas (1835-36), with the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-48) over boundary disputes, and France (1862-1867). 

The DeGolyer Library’s Mexico: Colony to Empire exhibit displays a rich variety of materials related to all these aspects of the fascinating history of Mexico. Special thanks to W. Michael Mathes and Elmer Powell for their loan materials which greatly enhanced the exhibition. 

For questions, contact curator Anne E. Peterson of SMU's DeGolyer Library at

To view items from the DeGolyer Mexico collections online, please visit:

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